"Materializing the Transient: Ethnographies and Museums in the Study of (Forced) Migration" Göttingen, May 14-16, 2020

Welcome to the conference “Materializing the Transient: Ethnographies and Museums in the Study of (Forced) Migration”. The event is hosted by the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of Göttingen University and Die Exponauten (Berlin-located exhibition agency), as part of the BMBF-funded research project “On the Materiality of (Forced) Migration.”

Our linked webpage is working as the virtual platform for the whole conference that addresses the (forced) migration from a material culture perspective. Below you find the recorded keynote lecture, a section for each panel and the concluding session and the poster presentations. The panel pages contain the recorded panel keynote, a link to the online meeting room and a section for discussions. Each panel will start with the discussion of the panel keynote. Thus, we ask you to watch the video before the panel starts at the announced time.

We will keep the panel sessions in a small scale format. However, a limited number of students and scholars can still join the event. If you are interested in participating, we ask you to send a formless registration as well as a brief explanation of why this conference is relevant for your topics of research or studies to "matmig@sowi.uni-goettingen.de" Feel free to watch and discuss the videos, to read the posters and take a look around our project webpage.

We are very much looking forward to meeting you here.

Your conference organizing team “On the materiality of (forced) migration”


Materializing the Transient

This session will ask to what extent perspectives on the materiality of (forced) migration require specific methodological, but also ethical, approaches in order to produce new and multifaceted social and personal insights into the complex field of everyday human–thing relations. We want to explore the (often not obvious) possibilities of material inscriptions and traces entailed in practical relations to things. But we are also interested in the pitfalls and ethical dilemmas faced by ethnographers who study such precarious and tense fields.
Forced migration is characterized by the fact that many individuals have lost or left behind most of their belongings. People in such circumstances, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, need to develop new ways of living – a process that requires fundamental renegotiations of ties to people and material objects. Thus, the approaches we seek to discuss in this panel must be able to bring to light different ways of relating to things (familial, spatial, temporal, etc.) ¬– regardless of whether they are at hand or out of reach.
This panel focuses on the complex intertwining of migration, material culture, and emotions. Migration and the dynamics of “de/territorialization” result in multiple attachments and detachments (Svašek 2012). Human mobility, no matter whether forced or voluntary, usually leads to intense emotional and transformative experiences shaped by materiality. In this process, objects and images “move” in a double sense: they both stir emotions and also “entail the movement of people and things,” as Basu and Coleman assert (2008:317). Things may contain personal and collective memories, recall loss, activate senses of belonging, facilitate transnational connectivity, and offer reliability in turbulent times. Certain objects and images can trigger affects and emotions such as trauma, despair, or homesickness, but also religious sentiments, hope, aspiration, and well-being. In host societies, public debates on the appropriate quality and amount of material and financial aid (clothes, food, housing) for refugees and asylum seekers can become highly emotional. Fierce disputes may arise regarding ‘illegitimate’ possessions of refugees, such as branded mobile phones and clothing. Hereby, material culture may also provoke affects such as resentment and social envy.
Globally, the (large-scale) accommodation of millions of refugees has become a major challenge. This panel will focus on empirically grounded and comparative studies of the material and temporal dimensions that characterize the different forms, conceptualizations, and practices of accommodating refugees.
Refugee camps are a means of protection deployed in situations of emergency to provide physical, food and health security to fugitives and displaced people. As such, they are considered to be transient settlements, where the figure of the refugee is constructed as the ‘constitutive other’, neither belonging here nor there. In practice, however, this temporariness may become quasi-permanent – a permanent exception (Agamben) – not only for individual refugees but because camps may continue to exist for years or even decades. Camps produce paradoxical, ambivalent situations and settings: spatially and materially, camps have boundaries, physical barriers, and other forms of material and social forms of containment that separate populations and create a distinction between ‘insiders’ (camp residents) and ‘outsiders’ (locals). In everyday practices, however, the limits and boundaries are permeable, allowing people, goods, things, and ideas to cross.
The aim of this panel is to show how depictions of migration have changed over time, and also how to analyze current representations of migration and their social significance.
The panel will discuss representations of (forced) migration in contexts such as museums, public discourse, and policies. We therefore welcome contributions that examine depictions in newspapers, books and other forms of media, artistic contexts, but also in political debates. In this session, (material) representation of migration in museum contexts deserves our special attention. As contact zones (Pratt, Clifford), museums are fields of encounter, debate, and confrontation. We will examine the role of museums as cultural and educational institutions and how they can impact public discourse and policies regarding migration. Ongoing changes to displays and forms of curatorial work should be considered in relation to their identity-forming functions, for example regarding representations in (permanent) exhibitions of historical and cultural-historical museums. Additionally, we seek to explore to what extent representations of migration and transculturality are related to dynamic issues of self-representation and the participation of migrant groups in these processes.